The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee versus blast-bail Ahmed

Mumbai, March 22: Sonia Gandhi is keeping up the suspense, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee now knows at least one of his opponents in Lucknow — a man out on bail after being arrested for his alleged role in the 1993 serial blasts.

Shaikh Aziz Ahmed, a marine engineer in Dubai before he got embroiled in the case, has been fielded by the Muslim League to take on the Prime Minister. Ahmed, who fancies himself as a giant killer in the making, is looking forward to the fight.

Farhana Shah, who is handling Ahmed’s case, said it is up to the Election Commission to stop a candidate from contesting. “The fact is that he is out on bail and has not been convicted, so what if the case against him is that of conspiracy in the bomb blasts case,” she said. Everyone is innocent until found guilty, the advocate said.

Shah expects Ahmed to do well. “Actually, Ahmed had contested in an earlier election in 2002 when, after Phoolan Devi’s death, a byelection for the Mirzapur (Uttar Pradesh) constituency had been necessitated. That time he had got around 28,000 votes and he feels he will better that record,” she said. “Only this time he has decided to take on the Prime Minister.”

The Congress, however, is yet to name a candidate from Lucknow, though former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani has offered to challenge Vajpayee. The Samajwadi Party has fielded a lightweight.

Ahmed was arrested on April 1, 1993, and charged with conspiracy. He is alleged to have attended meetings in Dubai held to prepare the blueprint for the blasts. The CBI had also seized an illegal firearm from him. He was granted interim bail in November 1995 on medical grounds. In December 1998, he was given permanent bail on the ground of parity as actor Sanjay Dutt — from whom the police had recovered an AK-47 — was also out on bail.

Last Friday, special judge Pramod Kode allowed Ahmed to leave Mumbai for campaigning, though he will have to return before April 19. “April 19 is the next general day for all the accused to attend court, so Ahmed will have to return to Mumbai before that,” Shah said.

Ahmed, who maintains he has been framed and that he was not even in Mumbai at the time of the blasts, has worked out the logistics. “There are around three-and-a-half-lakh Muslims in the constituency out of a total of 12 lakh voters and if I get all their votes, I could even end up winning the election against Vajpayeeji,” he said.

He has even coined a slogan — “Democratic jihad”.

“Democratic jihad means that one can use one’s vote to throw out the corrupt and the inefficient,” Ahmed said. “I will ask my voters to use it against the system, which has until now been unable to help them in any way.”

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